A Furry Feline

It's Just What The Doctor Ordered

by Sondra Triblehorn // April - May - June 2019

Cats have been around for at least 10,000 years and have warmed our hearts and souls with amusing antics and a soft-spoken presence ever since. If you have never owned a cat, it is hard to imagine the feelings of love and comfort that these four-legged friends inspire. But did you know, according to science, that cats are actually good for your health?

Mental Health

Cat ownership improves mental health by reducing stress, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness. They are incredibly entertaining as they respond to both your voice and touch and can keep you smiling all day long. Spending time with a cat triggers the release of oxytocin, the hormone known for inducing feelings of love and trust, and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. In fact, a Swiss study revealed that owning one is similar to having a romantic partner.

Relief From Grief

Losing a loved one is incredibly painful, but one of the best coping strategies is owning a pet. Cats offer a calming presence, comfort, compassion, and unconditional love which can be extraordinarily soothing when faced with feelings of isolation. These furry companions have been known to help people get over their loss more quickly and show less physical symptoms of pain. Felines are intelligent animals and serve as social support during difficult times. People in mourning report that talking to their pets helps them work out feelings of grief – they don’t judge or talk back.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

We all know that cats have a reputation for being aloof, but Frontiers in Veterinary Science reports that they tend to be affectionate with children with ASD, and those children with autism appear to be calmer and less anxious while petting a cat. Researchers from the University of Missouri found that the social interaction of children with autism dramatically improved when around pets. In the study, half of the participating families were cat owners, with parents reporting strong attachments forming between the feline and their child. “These kinds of social skills typically are difficult for kids with autism,” Gretchen Carlisle, a research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction said. “But this study showed children’s assertiveness was greater if they lived with a pet.”

I must stress the importance of finding a cat with ideal traits for a child with ASD – I recommend looking for one who is affectionate, well socialized (preferably with children), and is very low on the aggression scale.

But the benefits don’t stop here ... in a 2017 study, cat owners who were in their late 50s had half as many diagnosed health conditions and took 30% fewer prescribed medications as did their counterparts who didn’t own one.

Heart Health

The University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute has reported that cat owners have 40% less risk of suffering a heart attack and have lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels. High levels contribute to heart disease and are symptomatic of type 2 diabetes, as well as strokes, liver, and kidney disease. Naturally, reductions in these levels lead to a decreased risk in these diseases as well.

Allergies

Furry family members may help to increase children’s immunity and reduce the risk that they will have or develop asthma, allergies, and even eczema. The National Institute of Health reports that infants who were exposed to cats were less likely to develop allergies – and not just pet allergies, but also common ones such as allergies to dust mites, ragweed, and grass.

The Power Of Purrs

This is my favorite feline healing power – purrs, those vibrating sounds a cat makes. While much of why a cat purrs is still a mystery, recent studies suggest that purring acts as a natural healing mechanism in both cats and humans. It has been compared to a human smile. People smile for a variety of reasons – when they are happy, nervous, unsettled, or when they try to make someone else feel comfortable. It’s that way with a purr as well. Cats may purr when happy or content, but they may also use it as a way of self-soothing and healing. They may do so when they are nervous, sick, in pain – or even when close to death. This makes sense because of the endorphins that are released during the act of purring.

Purrs vibrate at 20-140 HZ, which is also the same frequency that assists in the mending of broken bones, as well as muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries. The vibrations increase bone density levels and help with the physical healing of infection and swelling. Therefore, nearby humans may be therapeutically benefitting from these vibrations. Purring also decreases the symptoms of dyspnea, the difficulty or pain with breathing, in both cats and humans.

If you aren’t ready to adopt right now, why not foster? This way, you get all the benefits without the commitment and cost. I asked one of our foster families to tell you about their experience. According to Karen Aga-ma, “We began volunteering as a foster family to help address our teenage son’s depression (including suicidal thoughts), anxiety, high blood pressure, sleeplessness, and social isolation. To our delight, having cats and kittens in our home and doing the work to rehabilitate and socialize them over time has significantly improved his outlook and overall wellbeing, as hoped. To my surprise, I found that my own mood has experienced an enduring boost and motivated me to become more active and approach life from a more purposeful perspective!”

It seems that cats may have the ability to relieve us of our troubles – or at least push our worries a little further away while we are with them. These furry creatures have always struck me as being a bit mystical and magically mysterious – but possessing healing powers? It’s nice to know that having a fuzzy furbaby around can add years to our lives ... I guess those crazy cat ladies aren’t so crazy after all!

Sondra Triblehorn

Member of the Purr Partners Board of Directors. Purr Partners Feline Rescue is a no-kill, foster-based, all-volunteer organization dedicated to saving the lives of cats and kittens in North Carolina. This year marks a decade of saving lives – over 3,500 adoptions and their mission continues. Purr Partners is proud to be a PetSmart Charities Adoption Partner, hosting adoption events every weekend from 11:30 AM – 3:00 PM at three locations: Wake Forest (11835 Retail Dr), Six Forks Station (8825 Six Forks Rd., Raleigh), and half-time at Capital Crossings (2800 E. Millbrook Rd., Raleigh).